Credit Where Credit Is Due

April 30, 2009

One part of David Leohardt’s recent interview with President Obama struck a chord with me:

LEONHARDT: Did Michelle ever make more than you did?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, sure.  Probably only for a brief time, because I was working three jobs most of the time that I was in the State Senate…. But when I started campaigning for the U.S. Senate and I had to drop some of those jobs, then she carried us for a couple years.

While I am happy that he acknowledges that she did earn more than him for a while, why couldn’t he just have left it at that?  There was no reason to explain it or to minimize it.  Now, to be fair, the rest of the interview’s discussion of feminist issues it very good.  But it just irks me that there is that underlying defensiveness.  Especially when, according to Liza Mundy’s biography of Michelle, the time when Michelle was earning more was also a time when Barack was pretty much MIA when it came to family responsibilities. 

It got me thinking about an exchange I had this weekend with a guy I hadn’t seen in a bunch of years.

HIM: What are you doing these days?

ME: I started my own consulting business working on leadership development and program development for non-profits and educational institutions.

HIM: Wow. I think of that as something that people who have been working for longer do.  Is it going ok?

ME: Yes. It has been great.  Within two weeks of starting the business I had a clients.  It has slowed down some with the economy, but that is ok because it allows me more time with my son.

HIM: Oh, so it is only part-time. That makes sense.

I was pissed.  I felt like within thirty seconds someone who is supposed to be a peer (not to mention a friend) had cut down my professional life completely.  He was clearly defensive about his own professional life- he is working the same job he has been for a bunch of years and is in school so there is no reason to be defensive- and it felt like he needed to bring me down, to prove that I wasn’t as accomplished as I might be.

Why do people do that?  Why can’t President Obama just acknowledge what he what brought in financially without caveats or explaining?  Why can’t this guy just be happy for where I am professionally?  And why is there no recognition, on either of their parts, of the fact that we are also doing the lion’s share of the child care as well?

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